Your righteousness has nothing to do with you

Your righteousness has nothing to do with you.

1. It does not start with you.
2. It is not facilitated by you.
3. It does not end with you.

Most of us probably do not have issues with the first statement. It is easy to recognize that only Christ’s blood justifies us and sets us on the path of righteous living in the first place. However, the latter two statements tend to be more problematic for the Christian. This calls for constant reminders of the means and ends of righteousness.

We often think that because righteousness is manifested by our actions, the process of becoming righteous is our responsibility. Of course, we acknowledge that God plays a role in this process, and it is common for us to pray and ask for his help. However, if you are anything like me, after you pray for a little while, you return to discipline and self-directed control in order to be obedient to God and grow in righteousness. I tend to think of it as a sort of spiritual conditioning in which forcing myself to desire righteousness and acting on those desires makes me into a righteous person. The problem with this thinking is that both the desire for righteousness and the will power to follow through with righteous actions is only possible by the work of Christ.

16th century theologian, Martin Luther, asserts that righteous actions stem from a primary source of righteousness. This is the righteousness that justifies us, and it is only by faith that we can receive it as a gift. When this happens, Christ becomes ours and our souls are immediately transformed. We are changed and made capable of genuinely desiring and acting on pure things. Hence, success in living righteously is a matter of faith in the transforming power of Christ. This does not mean that we should instead put our efforts into growing in faith so that we can attain righteousness. Rather, it means that we should keep to the faith by which we are justified in the first place. In other words, the faith by which you turned to Christ is the faith that will produce righteous actions. By the grace of God, if you maintain your full dependence on Christ, you will be transformed.

Your righteous lifestyle is for the purpose of bringing others to God. God calls us to live righteously, but it is not for our own gain. Righteous living has everything to do with others.
Love, patience, and peace are qualities of righteousness that affect the way we interact with others. Righteous actions are an extension of God’s goodness from a believer to another person. A prime example of this is Jesus, the incarnate Son of God. Jesus lived as a perfectly righteous man and he spent his life healing the sick and comforting the weary. The Gospels make it clear that Jesus’ righteousness had a greater impact on others than it did on him. Our righteousness is not meant to merely improve our lives but to improve the way we live with others. Also, since this sort of behavior is only possible because of Christ’s transforming power, it can only point back to him. Righteous actions encourage our brethren in the faith and serves as a light to the nonbeliever.

Do not fall into the trap of thinking of righteousness as a progression that ends with you. Rather, think of righteousness as a work of grace in which the Kingdom of God is expanded.

By his grace we can possess a saving faith.
By his grace that same faith will bring about transformation.
By his grace our righteousness will point others to back to him.

  • Mackman

    Good post. I think I see what you’re trying to say here, but I do have a question I’m hoping you can help me with.

    I’m wondering how your thesis (“Your righteousness has nothing to do with you”) applies to certain people the Bible explicitly describes as righteous. Job is one big example: In Job 1, we have from the mouth of God himself that Job is “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil.” Likewise, Zechariah and Elizabeth, in Luke 1, are described as “righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord”.

    Are you using “righteousness” here as a purely salvific term (which could then be contrasted with the righteousness ascribed to these people)? Or are you using it as a broader term, encompassing anything which could be called “good”? I’m interested to hear what you have to say on this.

  • Ashley

    I am using righteousness as a broader term, referring to good actions. In light of this post, I would say that Job, Zechariah, and Elizabeth live blamelessly (or righteously) because of their faith.

  • Mackman

    Interesting. A follow-up:

    Is this the actual righteousness of Hebrews 11 (“By faith so-and-so did such-and-such”), or the attributed righteousness of Romans 4 (“Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”)? Or do you see them as one and the same?

  • Ashley

    I see them as one and the same.

  • bumbutcha

    While a righteous lifestyle is indeed a witness for the purpose of bringing others to God, it also has direct implications for us. Positional righteousness does not negate the need for personal righteousness. Paul warned the brethren in Rom 8:12-13 that if they live according to the flesh, they will die BUT IF they put to death the deeds of the body, they will live. God provides the grace but it is up to us to live accordingly.